EMPLOYERS have expanded their push to cut minimum working hours - in one case to as little as 90 minutes a day for school students - and to slash weekend pay for casuals.
They are also moving to abolish evening penalty rates and to narrow the definition of ''shift work'', according to submissions to a major review of the awards system being conducted by Fair Work Australia.
Casual workers shunted in Fair Work review
Plans to cut minimum working hours and award rates, the missing Aussie pollie in Sri Lanka and the latest Newspoll results in today's political news with Tim Lester.
Unions, after analysing more than 200 submissions to the review, have accused employers of ''merely laying the foundation'' for an Abbott government to cut wages and conditions.
''What employer groups want is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week economy in which they have all the flexibility, the power and control over who works when and how little they are paid,'' said ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence.
But employer groups say the push to reduce entitlements for some workers is a direct result of the Rudd and Gillard governments having allowed costs to dramatically escalate for businesses from 2009.
The Fair Work review will set future awards covering most jobs across Australia, and took submissions until last month.
The ACTU seized on a submission from the National Retail Association arguing in favour of reduced minimum hours for secondary school students employed as casuals. The retail group wants a Fair Work Australia decision last year for a 90-minute-a-day minimum for students to be expanded into other retail awards.
The ACTU also cited employer submissions arguing for:
■Reduced penalties for casual employees, particularly on weekends and public holidays.
■New annualised salary arrangements that would avoid payment of allowances, penalties and overtime.
■A narrowing of the definition of shift work to reduce access to pay and leave entitlements.
■Discounted rates for apprentices and trainees where adult rates have traditionally applied
Mr Lawrence said the submissions showed employers wanted a return to the former WorkChoices policies of the Coalition. ''Australia's employer groups have never accepted the reality that WorkChoices-style laws were whole-heartedly rejected,'' Mr Lawrence said.
Australian Industry Group director of workplace relations Stephen Smith accused unions of trying to portray all employer requests as unreasonable.
He said the last review of awards across all industries - which was completed in 2009 and crunched over 1500 industry agreements down to 122 - had created a raft of problems for businesses.
Many employers were now struggling to cope with the increased costs. ''For example, afternoon shift loadings in the glass industry increased from 15 per cent to 50 per cent … and the new loadings are having a major negative impact on the industry,'' Mr Smith said.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said the unions' analysis had misleadingly implied that employer claims were across all industries.
''The ACTU is implying employers are being greedy and unreasonable in these demands, but is failing to disclose the areas where employers have had to accept significant new regulations and costs'' since 2009.
Mr Anderson said the government had at the time promised employees no loss in pay, and employers no huge increase in labour costs. Only the first promise was kept, he said.
Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said employers needed ''practical solutions to practical problems'' - something not being provided by current workplace laws.
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